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2-Plants: Mali farmers reject GM crops as attack on their way of life

                                 PART I
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TITLE:  Mali farmers reject GM crops as attack on their way of life
SOURCE: The Independent, UK, by Meera Selva
DATE:   31 Jan 2006

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Mali farmers reject GM crops as attack on their way of life

Farmers in Mali, the fourth poorest country in the world, have told
their government they do not want to see genetically modified crops
being grown on their land, after Africa's first "farmers' jury" debated
the issue.

Their verdict comes as the Mali government decides whether to allow
trials of genetically modified crops to begin in the country.

During the five-day meeting in Sikasso, in the south of Mali, where two
thirds of the country's cotton is produced, farmers heard arguments for
and against the introduction of GM technology.

Biotechnology scientists claim to be able to produce an insect-repellent
cotton crop that would survive attacks by bollworm, a pest that has
destroyed large swaths of the country's crop in recent years.

But environmentalists argue that the benefits of genetically modified
crops are outweighed by the harm done to local farmers. "GM technology
gives seed companies power over the entire agricultural sector," said Dr
Michel Pimbert, director of the London-based International Institute for
Environment and Development, which organised the meeting. He added:
"Crops are protected by patents, so farmers are unable to keep the seeds
from the harvest and re-sow them the next year as they do at the moment.
The idea that the first link in the agricultural link is controlled by a
company is deeply disturbing to small farmers."

Farmers at the meeting said they needed help to continue their existing
farming practices, and worried that new GM technology would damage their
way of life. Birama Kone, a smallholder on the jury, said: "GM crops are
associated with the kind of farming that marginalises the mutual help
and co-operation among farmers and our social and cultural life."

The development of GM technology in west Africa is backed by USAid, the
American development agency, but activists point out that Mali's cotton
industry would thrive if the United States stopped subsidising its own
25,000 cotton farmers by $3bn (£1.7bn) a year. West African countries
were hit hard by falling world cotton prices in the 1990s, and have
complained that the American cotton subsidies are driving them out of
business. A report by Oxfam argues that the US cotton subsidies cost
most west African cotton-producing countries the same amount in lost
export earnings that they receive in American aid each year.

The farmers' rejection of GM technology at the Sikasso meeting is not
legally binding, but the farmers hope the government will take their
views into account when making a decision about the future of GM crops
in the country.

African countries have been wary of accepting GM technology, despite
assurances from the US government and biotech companies that the
products are safe. In 2002, Zambia refused to accept genetically
modified relief food despite the threat of famine. Zimbabwe, Malawi,
Mozambique, Lesotho and Angola later said they would only accept maize
if the seeds were milled into flour, to prevent cross-pollination with
local maize crops.

Only a handful of countries, including South Africa and Burkina Faso,
have allowed GM crops into their farming sector. In Mali, the cotton
industry accounts for half of export earnings.

Mourad Abdennadher, west Africa regulatory manager for Monsanto, one of
the main biotech companies, said Mali did not have the legal framework
to cope with GM technology. "We cannot go into a country unless there
are clear biotech regulations, covering matters of bio safety, and of
how trials should be conducted and presented. Mali has none of these,"
he said.

                                 PART II
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TITLE:  African farmers say GM crops are not the way forward
SOURCE: International Institute for Environment and Development, UK
DATE:   29 Jan 2006

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African farmers say GM crops are not the way forward

Ordinary cotton-growers and other farmers have voted against introducing
genetically-modified crops in a "citizens jury" in Mali, which is the
world's fourth poorest country. Instead, the jurors proposed a package
of recommendations to strengthen traditional agricultural practice and
support local farmers.

The five day event (25-29 January) took place in Sikasso in the south of
the West African country, where two-thirds of the country's cotton is
produced. Mali is the largest producer of cotton in sub-Saharan Africa,
largely grown by smallholder farmers whose livelihoods depend on it.

Birama Kone, a small farmer on the 43-strong jury, said: "GM crops are
associated with the kind of farming that marginalises the mutual help
and co-operation among farmers and our social and cultural life."

Basri Lidigoita, a woman farmer on the jury, said: " We do not ever ever
want GM seeds. Never."

Brahim Sidebe, a medium-size farmer on the jury, said: "Farmers do not
want GM crops and do not want public research to work on GM technology
in Mali."

The jurors cross-examined 14 international witnesses representing a
broad range of views on this controversial issue. These included biotech
scientists, agencies such as the Food and Agriculture Organisation and
farmers from South Africa and India with first-hand experience of
growing GM crops.

African countries are under increasing pressure from agribusiness to
open their markets to GM crops and industrialise their farming sector,
but the continent remains divided in its response. South Africa and
Mali's neighbour Burkina Faso have allowed the introduction of GM, but
Benin has said no.

Though the jurors' decision is not binding, it is expected to influence
the future direction of agricultural policy in Mali and across the
region where most people rely on subsistence farming.

The citizens jury was hosted by the regional government (Assemblee
Regionale de Sikasso) and, to ensure a fair process, it was designed and
facilitated by the London-based International Institute for Environment
and Development (IIED) and RIBios, the University of Geneva's Biosafety
Interdisciplinary Network, together with a wide range of local partners
in Mali.

IIED's Dr Michel Pimbert said: "This initiative is about making the
agriculture agenda more directly responsive to African people's
priorities and choices. It is vital that we redress the current
democratic deficit in which governments and big agri-food corporations
have far more say than farmers and other citizens about how land is
used, and what crops are grown. We must all recognise that local people
have the right to decide the food and farming policies they want. This
citizens jury has provided a safe space for farmers to reach an
informed, evidence-based view on this complicated and often
controversial issue, which can then be amplified to policy-makers."

Kokozie Traore, President, Assemblee Regionale Sikasso, said: "This
citizen space for democratic deliberation has allowed farmers to learn
about the potential risks and benefits of GM in the context of Malian
farming. As a learning process it has created many synergies between all
actors in our province, from the very local to the regional level. The
citizens jury has been an eye-opening process and has made possible a
cross-fertilisation of local, regional and international opinions on GM
and the future of farming."

One of the local organisers, Dr Togola, Research Director of the Sikasso
Agricultural Research Station, said: "I am very satisfied. I know that
during the last five days our farmers have been sufficiently informed
and empowered to make the choices that best suit them on GM and farming

For further information
Tony Samphier on +44 208 671 2911
Liz Carlile on +44 207 388 2117

Notes to editors

The International Institute for Environment & Development (IIED) is a
London-based think tank working for global policy solutions rooted in
the reality of local people at the frontline of sustainable development.

More information on
A Citizens Space for Democratic Deliberation on GMOs and the future of
farming in Mali - A Citizens' Jury


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